Ideally, a nonprofit’s board of directors should mirror that of its community and clientele. Does yours? Identifying that your board needs more diversity is the easy part, though. Figuring out what to do about it can be more difficult. But it’s important because it can affect your funding and program effectiveness. A board with diverse attributes, such as age, gender, race, experience, and expertise, can provide a range of perspectives and lead to more effective programs and services. Nonprofit donors, funders, and supporters are increasingly valuing inclusivity and diversity. A diverse board signals commitment to social justice and equity and may make the organization more attractive to potential funders. Lack of diversity can signal a disconnect from your community.
Striking a healthy balance
What’s considered “healthy” diversity will vary from board to board. But think of it like this: the more diverse your board is in attributes, the more diverse it will be in thoughts and ideas. This diversity can come in many forms—physical, societal, and economic. Define what diversity means for your organization and determine the desired representation your organization aims to achieve.
If your bylaws limit the number of board members you can have at any given time, you might consider amending them to accommodate your nonprofit’s commitment to board diversity. Be careful, though, that the size of your board doesn’t become unwieldy.
Start with what you have
The first step to a great mix is to assess the current board’s background. You can ask board members to write their own profiles. In the instructions you give—or on the form you provide—include the attributes you consider important, such as skill sets and particular demographics. From this information, you will be able to see what the board may lack.
Look at the group as a whole and assess where the organization lies on the diversity continuum. Imagine a scale from “1” to “5,” with “5” displaying your nonprofit’s ideal diversity. Assess your members and give yourself a score. The diversity, or lack thereof, should be obvious. You may find, for example, that the board is underrepresented by women, persons of color, young adults, or individuals with a financial background.
Find new members
Ask current board members to help find the right individuals in their own personal and professional networks. Also gather input from your community and the organizations that serve it. If your nonprofit lacks the perspective of younger people, for example, contact a local “young professionals” group in your area or recent college graduates.
If you are having trouble finding qualified board members, try a board placement service. Some communities have board training programs for people interested in joining nonprofit boards. Professional associations can also be a good recruitment resource. Some state CPA organizations, for example, help match accountants with nonprofits that need volunteers with financial expertise.
Term limit option
If you are reluctant to enlarge the size of your board, take every resignation to put in place an individual who will help you meet your diversity goals. But if this process ends up being too slow, you might want to consider implementing term limits for board members.
Diversifying a nonprofit board is an ongoing process. Continuously evaluate your board’s diversity efforts and measure progress against your goals.